Mark R Lindsey

Engineer vs Scientist

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Fred Brooks in his new book, “The Design of Design”:

Moreover, in high-technology design, few designers can know enough to draw the basic decision tree for their domains. Design projects often last two years or more. And designers get promoted out of design. Consequently, few designers will work in any depth on as many as 100 projects over a working life. This means the individual designer has not begun to explore all the branches of the basic design tree for his discipline. For it is characteristic of engineering designers, as opposed to scientists, that they rarely explore alternatives that are not clearly on the way to a solution.

The engineer needs a satisficing solution; the scientist needs a discovery, and wider exploration often yields one.

I once heard Leslie Lamport, the distributed-algorithms pioneer, say “Engineers make things that work most of the time, while scientists design things that work ALL if the time.” (This is an approximate quotation based on my memory of a talk he gave in 2002.)

I’m always interested in comparisons and contrasts between scientists and engineers.


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